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Saturday, 28 October 2017

Religion among the Kodavas

- by Mookonda Kushalappa

Baalo, baalo nangada
Deva baalo Madeva

“Rule, our deity, Great God.”

This verse, which most Kodava folk songs begin with, summarises the Kodava religion. God, or the all-powerful superhuman who is pursued with devotion, is named Madeva (or Mahadeva), the great Deva. The Devas are a class of eternal beings who include gods, demigods, angels, spirits and other deities. Every sect or faith on this earth has its own beliefs. But, sadly, they are dismissed as superstitions by those who don't belong to that religion.

The Kodava way of living is based on the following of certain rituals and ethics. The laws and beliefs of the Kodava community are from oral tradition. Every Kodava reveres Kodagu, the holy land of their forefathers. In Kodagu, each family and village has a protector deity. The families are guarded by ancestral spirits. The villages are guarded by temple deities and land spirits.

God worship

God, to the Kodavas, is popularly manifested as the local trinity Kaveramme, Igguthappa, and Guru Karana. Kaveramme, the river deity of Kodagu, is the Kula Devathe (a community's patron god) of the Kodavas. Igguthappa is the Mahaguru (chief preceptor) of the community. Guru Karana, roughly meaning the supreme ancestor, is a common word by which an okka (extended family) addresses the single ancestor who gave rise to them.

Every okka (family) has a karana (literally meaning cause, but, here, the ancestor) every keri (hamlet) or oni (lane) has a nata (snake), every oor (village) has a Bhagwathy (mother goddess) temple, every deva kaad (sacred forest) has an Ayyappa shrine and every naad (shire) has a Mahadeva (Lord) temple. Ayyappa is the god of the forests and of ancestors. Kaimada shrines are also built for the ancestors.

Daily and festive practices

Every day, in each Kodava household, at dawn and at dusk, the house floor is swept clean and the prayer lamp is filled with oil and lit. The prayer lamp is usually a thookbolcha, a hanging ornate lamp, as often seen in South India's temples. This is hung in the nellaki nadubade or as in the present day, in the pooje kombare (prayer room). The nellaki nadubade is the northwestern corner of the central hall in a traditional house. Also, when a Kodava wakes up in bed, he or she says a prayer. When they go to sleep in the night, again they utter a prayer.

Kaveri Changrandi, the festival of the goddess Kaveri, is a festival when Kodavas refrain from meat and alcohol. Puttari the harvest festival and Kail Polud the festival of arms are the important feasts of celebration in Kodagu. Karana Kodupo is an important annual observance when offerings are made to a clan's ancestors. The food and drink habits of deceased members of the family are remembered. Accordingly, offerings are made to the dead. The Karana, or the dead Patriarch, is prayed to. Offerings of food and drink made to gods and ancestors are called Medi beppo. Offerings are made to kuliya, or Gulika, the main spirit of the land, as well.


Kodavas hold a reverence for life. Hunting animals was done only for the purpose of providing meat (that of rabbits, bats, deer, boars, and others) to the family or to protect the people, livestock and the land from predators (like tigers and elephants). During days that lead to the village temple festival, certain religious restrictions called the deva kattu are observed. Eating meat, consuming alcohol, physically or verbally hurting animals or humans, pulling out plants and cutting trees are forbidden in the period.

The reverence of cattle is said to be the chief practice the Kodavas have in common with the Hindus. Cattle, with the exception of buffaloes, are not worked on Mondays. Beef is prohibited among Kodavas. Pork and meats of certain birds and animals are generally allowed for consumption. The consumption of insects, reptiles, and amphibians is not allowed. Drinking alcohol and wine is not prohibited.

The dead are either cremated or buried in the family graveyard. The Kodavas believe that the spirits of the dead will linger on after death on earth. The spirits are also believed to be invoked by shamans who are called the thiralekara in theray ceremonies. The possessed dance in a frenzied manner and prophesize to believers who come before them. Botekara Ayyappa, the hunter god who rules the forests, leads the male spirits on hunts in the deva kaad (sacred groves).

Kodavas also believe in helping out others. During marriages and funerals, they come together to help organize the arrangements and to pool in their individual contributions in order to help the family carry the expenses.

(Update: This article was also published in the Kodagu English weekly "Coffeeland News" on 30th March 2018)

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